Copper stimulates the proliferation and migration of endothelial cells and is required for the secretion of several angiogenic factors by tumour cells. Copper chelation decreases the secretion of many of these factors. Serum copper levels are upregulated in many human tumours and correlate with tumour burden and prognosis.
Copper chelators reduce tumour growth and microvascular density in animal models. New orally active copper chelators have enabled clinical trials to be undertaken, and there are several studies ongoing. A unifying mechanism of action by which copper chelation inhibits endothelial cell proliferation and tumour secretion of angiogenic factors remains to be elucidated, but possible targets include copper-dependent enzymes, chaperones, and transporters.